Friday, 30 April 2010

Fine finish

As the calendar shows, April has been an outstanding month albeit an exhausting one.

Although I've got quite a lot done this week in general it has been small, bitty stuff therefore in usual Hobbit style I decided to end the month with a bit of a big day.

Not touched since the beginning of the month (where the heck do the days go) it was time to finish the bed which will become a hedging windbreak for the potager area. I've been calling it the "yew hedge" but the jury is reconsidering whether that is actually what will be planted here.

This photo looks so innocent.

It doesn't show digging the whole bed over by hand to remove the remaining perennial weeds. It doesn't show then going over it all with the Mantis to break up the rock hard pan which was almost impenetrable in places. I don't like using the tiller unless I have to but there were so few worms in the soil and it was so hard packed - and this is the only time this bed will ever suffer mechanical attack like this.

The photo doesn't show the bed being dug over by hand a second time to break up the large dry chunks nor is there a record of numerous trips with bucket loads of cow manure because I can't get the wheelbarrow to this area ... but it does show the whole thing raked over and finished and looking quite wonderful.

Damn hard work but a lovely feeling knowing it has been done properly and will never need doing like this again. I've since laid black membrane over it, don't want a pile of weeds growing before I get the plants in!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Productive Morning

8.00am: Sainsbury's

9.00am: Aldi. One of the special offers this week is bedding plants and I figured it was a quick and cheap way of gaining sufficient for the Hay Baskets. Of course, I bought more than I went in for and my Bank Holiday weekend will include a lot of time potting up some of the bigger plants into larger pots. For a tad over £20, I thought this was a bargain.

10.00am: An even bigger bargain. Whilst tracking down the owner of an escaped lamb on Tuesday I made the acquaintance of a farmer in the next village. One of the few people locally who has straw in old-fashioned bales I was invited to call by to collect some. After an argument about money, which I won on the principle of "if you don't let me pay you I cannot come and ask for more", EJ would only accept £5 for all three ...

He was determined to put the bales in fertiliser sacks to protect my car, with his wife showed me around some of the lovely Georgian farmhouse and gave me a tour of the yard which included lots of chicks (I can see us ending up with hens!), pigs newly arrived from auction and very happy in their barn (some of which will end up in our freezer this autumn) plus some young cattle, but the biggest treat was a ewe who had unexpectedly lambed this morning. As I arrived EJ was sorting out the legs of the twin who had got himself stuck and I watched a tiny little lamb enter the world.

After a conversation which secured the future of my cow muck supply we got talking about gardening. I'm going to grow on some of my spare cucumber and tomato plants for him in exchange for manure. There are no words to explain what a joy it is to live here and get to know people like EJ who make the local community what it is. (It is no surprise that his Aunty is one of my sewing friends, and we have many other acquaintances in common.)

Checking the propagator on my return I'm pleased to see that Hobbit hasn't lost her green-fingered touch :) and four cucumber are already up - that's in 48 hours.

Ollie's Sunflowers are also doing extremely well.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Seed sorting

Cold and blustery here today, and I spent it trying to sort out way too many seed packets, being ruthless about those which, if I am not going to grow and cannot give away, I will bin, and sorting the rest into 'sowing month' which makes the pile look rather less daunting.

This wonderful organisational idea is courtesy of Hazel, so simple but so effective. The pot on the left is everything already sown, the box in the middle is waiting and the pot on the right will be off to a new home tomorrow.

This really should have not taken all day but it did - combination of Hobbit inability to stay focused this week, family visiting in the afternoon and Wayne The Builder here all day making great progress on the big raised planters. The flagstones have to be repointed and the newly rendered areas need dashing but then he's finished.

I've finally figured out how I want to put the trellis to enable clematis and honeysuckle to work their way over the canopy.

The stupid half wall at the bottom of the steps is no more and eventually the tarmac patch will get nice and dirty and blend in much better! The heather is constantly covered in huge bumble bees, too many to count.

And on the 7th day

It doesn't matter how many times I do this, watching seeds germinate still amazes me and leaves me with a sense of wonder. From that tiny germ of embryo comes root, stem, cotyledon seed leaves - life.

The first batch of Ollie's Sunflower seeds were sown on 21st April, and 7 days later, 23 out of 30 are up, guess Hobbit still has green fingers :}

It makes me wonder what calamity has to befall humanity before everyone remembers that without this we starve.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Seeds and Weeds

There is probably medication. . . but who wants to take it? :} This is a wonderful addiction and although the garden currently takes nearly all of my time I don't mind at all. The order from Chiltern Seeds arrived this morning and most have already been sown. The heated propagator is out and hopefully the cucumber seeds will come up as well as they have done in previous years.

Examining the greenhouse this morning showed that some of the first sowing of Ollie's Sunflower is germinating, constantly amazes me that from a tiny little seed all this differentiation and specialisation can develop. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that many of these sowings are a bit late and the plants won't have a long enough growing season this year to do their best, there's no harm in having a go.

In all, today I sowed more of Ollie's Sunflower and
Cucumber - Perfection
Artichoke - Green Globe
Pepper - Mini Bell Mixed
Pepper - California Wonder
Pepper - Romano Mixed
Cayenne Pepper
Anagallis - Blue
Papaver - Rhoeas
Teasel (I could live to regret this - one solitary plant in Hampshire
that was allowed to seed populated the garden for the next 8 years - and then we moved!)

Salvia Horminum - White Swan
Sweet William - auricula eyed
Viola Odorata - The Czar
Mesembryanthemum Criniflorum
Godetia, F1 - Grace mixed

and I have very mixed feelings about the Godetia. It came in a bundle from Chiltern Seeds, one of those "good value and you don't know what you will get" selections. I made a decision earlier this year not to purchase F1 seeds and rely on open pollinators that are insect friendly, Monsanto will have to get by without me. Whereas every other packet from Chiltern contained dozens if not hundreds of seeds, there were about 12 - 15 minuscule embryo in this packet.

Although I had grand plans for today which included finishing preparing the bed for our yew hedge, it was one of those days that didn't ever really get going, I did however manage to dig up two huge buckets full of dandelions.

Whilst preparing a big batch of ratatouille this evening I realised that unless I get some herbs, courgette and aubergine sown my chances of producing a completely home-grown ratty later in the year are zero ...

It hasn't taken long to fill the big propagator

Monday, 26 April 2010

Here's something you don't see everyday

Call from Management who is in his study (which has a window overlooking the Bag End Buffet) "two squirrel having a fight over a hazelnut"

I missed that spectacle but decided to nip outside to the back of the house and see what was going on. Er, umm, er, yes, "goings on" indeed. Had not taken the time to put the big lens on camera so these are pretty naff but it is possible that I witnessed the making of more squirrels . . .

Well, it is "that" time of year and all that.

Later, I could hear a squirrel nibbling away on a hazelnut. After slipping around the back of the log store and squeezing past a VERY prickly berberis, I ended up hiding behind a large silver birch. This beautiful creature knew perfectly well I was only 15 feet away from it but figured I was no threat and kept eating.

Last week I came out of the greenhouse and startled a Red who was firtling around in front of the log store. All these incidents have made us realise there is probably much more squirrel activity in the garden that we tend to witness, given that most of the time we're just looking out of the kitchen window. Must give thought to how we can set things up so make it easy to watch them in different parts of the garden.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

It's a sickness

Last week I think I made the rash comment that I would try not to sow more seeds than I could cope with . . . Oh stop laughing at the back, I didn't believe me either!

Damp and grizzly today, perfect to be in the greenhouse on a Sunday morning. Is it me or has the Archers got really silly?

Sowed lots of lovely things, some to eat and some for the insects and potted yesterday's Geraniums into square pots.

Lupin - Double Purple*
Lupin - Nicholson Purple*
Oriental Poppy - Mr Photo*
Oriental Poppy - Hannah*
Calendula Hazel*
Nigella - Mayfield*
HSL Climbing Pea - Stephens
HSL Climbing Pea - Robinson

* these names are my own invention, based upon where/who I've got the seed from.

and trying not to think about how much space they will all need once germinated and potted on - and REALLY trying not to think about the seed order I placed with Chiltern Seeds this week.

Compulsive Gardening Disorder - it's a sickness, albeit a wonderful one - I haven't even started on acquiring all the seeds I want to sow in late summer for over-wintering.

Behind the greenhouse is a lovely Chaenomeles , Japanese Flowering Quince, a plant which appears to be out of favour these days but one I have always liked. No idea yet if this is superba, speciosa, or japonica. Needs pruning, must check what to do and when.

Also badly in need of attention is this huge, sprawling honeysuckle that is just begging to have lots of air-layered cuttings made from it.

Keith popped in and made another pair of brackets for the 5th Hay Rack. They look great hanging around the balcony and now all the welding is done I can think about painting the railings.

Although I didn't get as much done as I would have liked, it was wonderful to be in a warm, dry glasshouse whilst the weather drizzled outside. No cooking tonight - family are visiting Cumbria and staying locally and as I have a Significant Birthday in a couple of weeks {gulp} we're being taken out for supper. Gardening and no cooking in the same day - perfect!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Greenhouse Heating

A 16' x 8' greenhouse is big. A 16' x 8' greenhouse which needs heating is a very big!

Management and I did some "back of an old envelope" sums and concluded that the heat generated from a tea light or two should be enough to raise the temperature of a small area just a degree or two and at this time of year, that should be enough. The cost of burning 2 or 4 tea lights per night will be far less than buying a greenhouse heater and running it, whether we use electric or paraffin.

The original plan was for a candle inside an old tin, then on a bit of slate for safety. Not being an eater of baked beans, tins are in short supply so the candles went directly onto stone, seems to have worked OK and when I remove the plastic covers first thing it is definitely slightly warmer inside than out. The theory is that by the time I have too many plants to fit into these little shelters the risk of frost might be over ...

The shallots don't seem to have done anything yet, but apparently they sit quietly for quite some time getting busy in the root department before making any top growth.

Had a lazy day today and drove around local nurseries. West Cumbria is not over-endowed with garden centres but we do have a couple which are excellent. I was very restrained and whilst I could have happily come home with a car full of wisteria, clematis and more, I restricted purchases to these geraniums and ivy for the balcony Hay Racks (buying ivy - how insane is that?).

Friday, 23 April 2010

Fabulous Friday!

Alliteration and exclamation marks are definitely called for. Despite a very slow start and a brain which did not wish to participate in the day early on, today really has been amazing.

At breakfast I watched TWO Red Squirrel sit together in the bird feeder and potter around very close to each other quite happily. Whilst I was thinking how fabulous that was, Management called from his study "do you realise all THREE of them are here?" Sadly not close enough to capture in one photograph but to have three of these amazing creatures in the garden at the same time is an absolute gift.

Some of the lawn had its first cut, the area round the potager now looks very smart by Bag End standards. I could definitely become a Grass Cutting Anorak, there is something delightfully zen about walking gently behind the mower whilst in an insulated world of my own protected from a noisy petrol engine by very efficient ear defenders.

The eagle-eyed will notice the return of green cages on the grass - our orchids are just starting to put up leaves, must photograph them at the weekend.

Candle power seems to be working in the greenhouse at night and during the day "sun power" is working too.

After a long wait and much saying pretty please, lovely chaps from Carrs (farm supply) located a couple of IBC tanks for me in exchange for a pitifully small number of beer vouchers. They will make splendid water containers and Management has agreed to my getting a couple more so that, eventually, we capture nearly all the rain which falls on the house roof.

I concede that at present they look like agricultural monstrosities and very out of place in a wildlife garden; hang on until I have them in situ, surrounded by trellis and covered with clematis or honeysuckle ....

First seeds were sown in the greenhouse and remarkable (and unusual) restraint employed to not sow too much of anything. Using 9cm pots instead of traditional trays means there is less temptation to "fill the tray" although I don't promise this will continue.

Ollie's Sunflower, Brampton Butternut Squash, Brampton Pumpkin, Tomato: Garden Pearl, Harbinger, Roma and Costoluto Fiorentino.

Also planted some new potatoes - First Earlies (Rocket) and Second Earlies (Arran Pilot) both in the greenhouse and in a raised bed, and some Main Crop ("Brampton" - saved from organic delivery) in compost bags outside.

Never grown potatoes like this, but if it doesn't work not much has been lost. I can compost the haulms, chuck the multi-purpose compost on a raised bed and use the bags for rubbish!

Wayne worked on our brick planters and much progress has been made.

Add to this many sightings of "our" kestrel, pheasant, male bullfinch, goldfinches, chaffinches, long tailed tits, blackbirds, robins, blue and great tits, jackdaw, magpie, collared dove, wood pigeon and rooks - and it was a rather fabulous Friday!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Greenhouse Staging

I knew it would be a big job . . . but . . . Didn't get started yesterday until noon, an appointment first thing followed by the obligatory faffing around inside and on the computer meant a 12.00 start, and that led to a 7.00pm finish (there were food and drink breaks!) It was a very long, hot day - I'd forgotten how tiring it can be to work inside a sunny glasshouse therefore some shading went up rather sooner than I had expected.

I've used the benches from our Alton cedar greenhouse and added fairly robust legs of 2" x 2". The Alton staging bolts to the g/h frame, this has to be freestanding.

I have made the benches 36" high which is much more than the norm. I have a clear and painful recollection of spending far too long pricking out seedlings about 3 years ago and the staging was far too low to be comfortable, and at the end of it all I wanted to do was spray the entire garden with napalm . . . the plants won't mind being an additional 6" above sea level and it gives more room underneath.

Some of the free slate from Wednesday found a use under the legs where the original concrete blocks turned out not to be as level as I had thought {gg}.

An 8.00am start today means that it was finished to the accompaniment of John Humphries grilling some hapless politician, Radio 4 in the morning and Classic FM in the afternoon.

The gap is for a water tank which needs cleaning and a hole sealing before it can be put in place. It will be nice to have a small supply of water to dip a jug into which is at an ambient temperature for seedlings and it might also act as a heat sink during the day (which is why it is on the sunniest side).

It may NEVER look this tidy again!


Just a quick glimpse, first thing. Mr and Mrs Bullfinch having a quick breakfast of mixed corn and fallen sunflower seeds.

The female was not too impressed at having to share with a small chaffinch

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


Bounty off the back of a lorry - literally!

The trailer full of wood and fence posts which arrived yesterday morning also contained a small pile of slate slabs. Over coffee I asked where they had come from and what they were going to be used for.

The answer: "out of the previous job and on the way to be dumped" followed by "take 'em if you want, saves us having to move them again". Hobbits don't need asking twice when it comes to large bits of potentially useful stone. Half an hour later they were all stored at the back of the house, not sure what I'll use them for but that is a minor consideration.